Yuta Nihongaki

Microtubules, a dynamic network of protein filaments, are involved in many essential cellular functions, and the dysregulation of microtubule regulation is often associated with a wide range of human diseases, such as cancer and neurodegeneration. Because of their unique hollow structure, microtubules have luminal space, and there is accumulating evidence that microtubule properties are modulated by protein interactions on their luminal surface. This raises a primitive question: How can proteins enter the microtubule lumen, which is surrounded by densely packed tubulin dimers? Under the mentorship of Dr. Takanari Inoue, I developed “luminal molecular trapping,” which for the first time allowed for real-time visualization of molecular accessibility to microtubule lumens. By utilizing this technique, I discovered that soluble proteins efficiently enter the lumen through their peripheral ends and side lattice openings. The present luminal trapping strategy laid the foundation for probing luminal microtubule biology and has potential in extending the study to uncovering regulations of effector proteins and tubulin post-translational modifications.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I chose Johns Hopkins for its reputation as a leading research institution and its strong commitment to both biology and engineering. I was particularly drawn to Dr. Takanari Inoue’s group, which provided an ideal environment for my research at the interface between cell biology and chemical biology.

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

Receiving this award is a tremendous honor and validation of the hard work and dedication I have put into my research. Professionally, it will help to establish me as a recognized leader in my field and open up new opportunities for collaboration and advancement. Receiving the Paul Ehrlich Award is particularly meaningful to me because Ehrlich had a profound impact on modern chemical biology.

What contributed to your project’s success?

Several factors contributed to the success of my project. One of the most important was the guidance and mentorship I received from Dr. Takanari Inoue, who helped me to develop the technical skills and scientific knowledge necessary to conduct high quality research. Additionally, I was deeply supported by my lab mates in both formal and informal ways.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles student and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?

I think Young Investigators’ Day is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the outstanding work being done by students and fellows at Hopkins. It is a celebration of the next generation of scientists and a chance to recognize the important contributions they are making to research in a variety of fields. I am honored to be a part of this tradition and excited to see the incredible work being done by my peers.

What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

I have had many opportunities to work with diverse scientists, from biophysicists to chemical engineers. It really helped me expand my thoughts and technical skills.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I am finishing up my job search and will start my own lab this year.

Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?

I enjoy playing mahjong, a tile-based game popular in East Asia. It is a skill- based game, but it also involves luck. I believe science is also a game of both, and this belief makes me uniquely productive as a scientist.